Not Dinner Plates! Global Plates....

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SWBAT distinguish between three types of earth movements: earthquakes, divergence and convergence.

Big Idea

The shape of the earth's surface has taken millions of years to form. Most of those movements have followed the same process, but seeing those movements are difficult when it takes so long.

Setting the Stage

10 minutes

This lesson begins with the reading of a children's mentor text, Where Do Mountains Come From Mama? This is a great book that depicts a little girl and her mother on a walk, while on the walk, they share a conversation about the creation of the mountains.  The text is simple, but very clear and explains the origins of mountains in an understandable way.  The illustrations are fantastic!! They are so well done, it is easy to see the science behind the concept. It also does a beautiful job of incorporating 2-ESS1-1.  

I read this book earlier in the day as a read aloud to my students during my reading block.  As I read it, I do not mention that we will be doing anything with the book later. I simply read it and let the children enjoy the language and the illustrations.  Many of the children do make connections to the unit at hand and comment that they see the correlations between the book and what we have been learning about.  

There are times, when I read books to use as my spring boards into a lesson and other times when I want to just let the language roll.  This is one of those times.  I do this because I want to make an impact with the mentor text.  If I read the book and allow the children to enjoy it, they are listening more intently to the message in the text.  If I explain that we will be using the concepts in the book as the catalyst for our next lesson, they are listening for science content and not the message.   There are a couple of things I want the children to walk away from this book with:

The first, the main character is a little girl.  This is a strong role model for the girls to see asking questions that are deep scientific questions.  I am subtly making a point for the girls in my own classroom, without saying it out loud.  

The second reason I want to have the children listen without prefacing the book is to establish and build some simple background knowledge.  Just by reading the book, I am delivering and offering background schema that will come back into play when we complete the lesson later in the day. 

Materials needed to teach the lesson:  

One package of Graham Crackers

Plastic picnic plates or trays of some sort

Wax paper

Whip cream

plastic knives


10 minutes

I have the Plate Tectonics Power Point ready to go on the screen. Slide one shows the title of the lesson and many of the children are already excited.  They have made individual connections instantly.  

Slide two poses this question...."Does the size of a mountain tell us anything?"  Next to the text, it shows the same picture the children used in the Probe. I purposely chose this picture, because the children have a connection to it. They all have their own ideas of what the size and shape of the mountain may or may not tell us.  

I leave the slide up on the screen for just a couple of minutes. I do not want the children to begin discussing it yet.  I move to Slide three, which asks, "Do we know how the mountain came to be a part of the earth?"  Again, I let the question stay there for a moment, and I move on to Slide four. The directions are clear on this slide.  The children are to put their heads together and discuss what they know.  If they remember anything from the story we have read earlier in the day, they will share some of this information.  

This is my reason for not telling anything about the purpose of reading the book earlier in the day. I want them to make their own leaps and connections from the information they heard in the book and apply it to this conversation.  While the children are discussing the questions, I am walking through the classroom listening to the conversations.  It is helpful for me to hear what is being said. The comments I hear from the students, will help to guide the direction we take the conversation in the classroom.

I allow the children to have their conversations for about four minutes or until I notice the sounds of the classroom. If the noise begins to rise, the children are beginning to deviate away from the conversation.  I ring my bell and get their attention.  I explain that now that they have had a chance to discuss the questions and share what they know, I want them to watch this video clip. 


After the video has played, I ask the children what they noticed from the video that they may have made any connections with or that triggered some background schema for them. 

In the beginning of the video clip it brings up erosion and rain falling to the ground and mountains washing away.  These are all concepts that have been investigated in the earlier lessons and the children pick up on them right away.  The video clip then travels into a great explanation about plate techtonics, which is what this lesson is all about. 



20 minutes

I move on to Slide five, which demonstrates that we are going to recreate our own simulation (SP2) of the plates on the earth moving and learn about those movements.  The children are excited! To say the least, they are bouncing!!!  Right on the screen it shows the children what we will need for the materials and they know something good is coming.

I ask the team leaders to come and get two plastic picnic plates.  On each plate is the graham crackers and plastic knives.  I use the plastic picnic plates for everything in science investigations. They make fantastic trays to put supplies on, are easy to maneuver, and simple to clean.  If they really get messy, they are easy to take home and put in the dishwasher.  A few sets at the Dollar Store creates a class set to have for a long time. I have also cut the graham crackers ahead of time for this lesson.  

I explain to the children that they will work with their shoulder buddy on this investigation. When the team leaders have taken the trays and other materials to their teams, I quickly walk around and put a spoonful of whip cream on the trays for the children to begin building their mountain models (SP2). 

Slide six shows the children with a picture what they need to do and also includes visuals and written language to explain the science behind the concept of the earth's plates.  Having all the elements of the visuals and written language, along with a picture of the investigation, is a win-win for all students. No matter what level of language the students are at.  

We continue with Slide seven all the way through Slide nine.  As we move through each slide, the children maneuver their crackers through the whipped cream to simulate the picture they see on the screen.  As they are doing this, I am explaining to the process of the concept of the mountains creations.  


10 minutes

As we get to the end with the convergence of mountains, I ask all the children to watch another short video clip that shows the process of convergence with diagrams.  The clip then explains that this process not only creates and forms mountains, but also creates volcanoes.  I slipped this video clip in, because at this point in the lesson, the children are doing an amazing job.  However, their excitement is high and I know I need something to bring them back to a calmer state.  The video clip does that.

I then ask the children to share with me what they now know about mountains and how they form? I ask several questions that I help me to elicit more information and hopefully concrete concepts from the children.

  • Do the mountains just grow?
  • Do the plates on the earth help the mountains form?
  • When the plates move and create these reactions, does it happen quickly?
  • Or slowly?

I am anticipating they will be able to address all these questions in some form.  I do not expect their answers to be highly sophisticated in a way that an upper level science student (fourth grade or above would answer, but more a simple concept that the earth's plates move and can create mountains, earthquakes or valleys - divergence). 


10 minutes

I want the children to do more than just experience the simulation of the plate movement, I want them to also write down the observations they made.  When we complete the investigation, I pass out the student page that allows the children to document their results.  

I ask the children to use what they know from our investigation to complete the grid. I also share with them that they can work with their teammates.